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InFocus

thoughts from a member of the Editorial Board

Structural Engineering That OffShore Engineering Won’t Touch

®

By Craig E. Barnes, P.E., SECB
Lift your head from your computer screen long enough and
you hear about BIG business, BIG oil, BIG toy recalls, BIG
hamburger recalls. Thumb through a few issues of
STRUCTURE® and you find that many feature articles
are BIG projects. All around us ….BIG, BIG, BIG!!!
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Big engineering projects are very attractive to off- C
shore entities. Which of you firm owners have not
been exposed to some ad or mailer that promises
ten- fifteen- or twenty-five dollars an hour for your
BIG projects to be designed off-shore? Why bother
to have BIG engineering firms when projects can
be done off-shore for peanuts? Some architects
love the concept. Why pay a BIG engineering firm
with a BIG office, BIG bucks when you can have
your BIG projects engineered for cheap? Some call
the concept of BIGness and the intrusion of off-shore
firms as progress, while others lament the downfall of
engineering in this country and the commoditization of
structural engineering.
Step back from that cacophony for a moment; listen to the
conversation and you hear an undertone of small. How many
times have we heard our legislators tell us that small business is
the work horse of the economy? I don’t recall the study, but
somewhere I do remember a suggestion that more than 75% of
all construction in this country involve structures that are three
stories or less. Look at your own state professional association.
How much of the membership comes from BIG engineering
firms? Off-shores are promising instant results and cheap, cheap,
cheap fees for projects of small scope as well. Domestic engineers
earning an income from projects of that nature are under attack
on two fronts. Not only is the fifteen dollar an hour off-shore
engineer seeking to push you to the bread line, but “shockingly”
often so is your architect benefactor. Do you recall the structural
engineering software firm sweet talking architects by suggesting
that the architects should be purchasing their software and
in a matter of less than two projects the entire cost would be
recovered in fees that they no longer had to pay their structural
engineer? If you don’t recall, or have mentally suppressed the
event, the matter is fact. Think of it! In Illinois, where architects

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can stamp anything, BIG and
small structural firms could be put
out of business by architectural
firms willing to take the risk. It’s
a dizzying world out there!
I will briefly address what
is well known by a segment
of the structural engineering
community that provides a lot of
grease to the wheels of the economy.
Most everyone reading this article is
thinking of entire buildings. As students,
we learned analysis, we studied design,
we learned how to design beams columns,
foundations etc. etc. etc, and when we left school
we knew we would be making great contributions
to society by designing buildings or bridges to be
built by others. When I left a BIG engineering firm
and started my own practice in 1984, I certainly
wasn’t starting BIG. I knew that in order to attract
clients I would have to engineer everything.
Yes, I would do buildings, and I’ve even done a
few bridges, and yes I’ll admit it, I promised good
service cheap, but not at off-shore prices. I grew past
that and now I can rail at those who provide cheap
engineering as a way of life. They need to grow up and
start charging reasonable fees or the entire profession
will be drawn down.
With that diversion, I am way off my story line. As I
was developing as an engineer, I taught at the Boston
Architectural College (BAC). It was not for income, as
the service provided by the instructors at the BAC was
a pro bono activity. It was considered a right of passage
for a structural, mechanical, or electrical engineer in
Boston to share their experience with students training
to be Architects. Surprisingly, after graduation, those
same students returned to ask for my assistance as they
were moonlighting or starting a small firm, trying to
compete the best way they could in a cold world. I helped
those young architects. Their work helped keep me alive
and grow my firm. Often those commissions were for no

Editorial Board
Chair

Jon A. Schmidt, P.E., SECB
Burns & McDonnell
Kansas City, MO
chair@structuremag.org

Executive Editor

Jeanne M. Vogelzang
NCSEA
Chicago, IL
ncsea@structuremag.org

Craig E. Barnes, P.E., S.E.

Mark W. Holmberg, P.E.

CBI Consulting, Inc.
Boston, MA

Heath & Lineback Engineers, Inc
Marietta, GA

Daniel Falconer, P. E.

Brian J. Leshko, P.E.

American Concrete Institute
Farmington Hills, MI

Richard Hess, S.E., SECB
Hess Engineering Inc.
Los Alamitos, CA

HDR Engineering, Inc.
Pittsburgh, PA

John A. Mercer

Mercer Engineering, PC
Minot, ND

STRUCTURE magazine

9

Brian W. Miller
AISC
Davis, CA

Greg Schindler, P.E., S.E.
KPFF Consulting Engineers
Seattle, WA

Evans Mountzouris, P.E. Stephen P. Schneider, Ph.D., P.E.
The DiSalvo Ericson Group
Ridgefield, CT

Matthew Salveson, P.E.
Dokken Engineering
Folsom, CA

February 2008

Kramer Gehlen & Associates, Inc.
Vancouver, WA

John “Buddy” Showalter, P.E.

AF & PA/American Wood Council
Washington, DC

but I can not imagine the off-shores cutting into this service area. I pulled from my files my experience on several projects that were essentially components of structural engineering.. Craig is a member of STRUCTURE® magazine’s Editorial Board. Mr. I had grown to a point where I could meet those challenges and charge a reasonable fee. Followed by questions at the end of the presentation. or similar. a m U T E R 10 February 2008 . P. and so on. “Your schooling R T S won’t provide all the solutions but it certainly will provide the tools to arrive at the solution.For Advertiser Information. no job too small! I don’t have to worry so much about the large jobs because they go to BIG firms. but we gladly do the small projects. as they put what heretofore had been some abstract engineering concepts into solving real world problems. I discovered property managers and facility operators with really small engineering challenges that needed to be met. Remember that old saw…no job too large. SECB is principal and founder of CBI Consulting Inc.▪ C U i z a g ADVERTISEMENT . of practitioners doing the same thing.com. I decided in the process to continue serving those clients and others in satisfying the smallest of engineering needs. Barnes can be reached via email at cbarnes@cbiconsultinginc. the evaluation of and the increase in size of a foundation to support additional loads. visit www. coordinating. Perhaps I am naïve. the engineer’s involvement in the lifting of an existing building raised two stories. I prepared for the fifty or so students and instructors a picture of what I’m sure one of your professors said to you. if not thousands. Barnes has over 40 years experience designing.STRUCTUREmag.” I believe I used that statement. Along the way I also found there are hundreds.E. or trying to connect a new foundation to an existing. Mr. Barnes. and managing structural and civil engineering projects throughout New England. Students learned about the strengthening ® of an existing steel column to support increased loads. The students were exposed to the design of a seismic mount to support a priceless artifact. The students learned about the practical application of arch action to evaluate existing masonry construction. A short while ago I was asked to speak to the Northeastern University ASCE student chapter on the general topic of structural engineering.more than the design of a beam or column or a plated connection of some sort.org STRUCTURE magazine e n Craig E. Using my experiences. I could sense the students lighting up. The students were exposed to the practicalities of metal pan stair construction and the need for structural engineering. the practical way to reinforce steel beams and columns in an old hotel which members were substantially reduced by corrosion. in my opening remarks and told the students that my lecture would be about things that they would not receive in school but would utilize the tools that they would be gifted with on graduation. something similar to. On many occasions a new client will t come to me questioning if their project righis y p o twenty too small to be of interest to Cour five person firm. Registered in both the civil and structural fields.